The Gilham Road raised bike lane, Eugene, Oregon

As a reader has commented on the Gilham Road, Eugene, Oregon raised bicycle lane in response to an earlier post, I’ve decided to follow up with some additional information about it.

Here’s a photo of the lane during installation.

Raised lane on Gilham Road, Eugene, Oregon

Raised lane on Gilham Road, Eugene, Oregon

I thank former Eugene Bicycle Coordinator Diane Bishop for sending me the photo. Her comments in the e-mail which accompanied the photo in February, 2002 are as follows:

I’m curious if you have seen or used any raised bicycle lanes? We installed one this summer and have had mixed reviews from users. Mostly the motorists don’t like it because they are forced to slow down (the road curves around various median islands, etc, and the travel lanes are 10′ wide, dropping the comfortable speed to about 20-25mph). But I”ve also gotten mixed reviews from cyclists. Most really like it, but some are concerned about the slope between the bike lane and the car lane. I’ve attached a photo so you can see what we did. This was taken during construction so we hadn’t done the landscaping, finished the sidewalk, or done the lane line painting. The bike lane stripe is at the bottom of the sloped surface now. The bike lanes are concrete, the auto lanes are asphalt.

The photo was taken at the intersection in the Google map below, looking south.


View Larger Map

Microsoft’s Bing mapping application offers a more detailed view, but you will have to open Bing separately to move around or zoom the view.

Microsoft Bing view of Gilham Road at Ayers Road, Eugene, Oregon

Microsoft Bing view of Gilham Road at Ayers Road, Eugene, Oregon

I responded to Ms. Bishop, as follows:

You asked me for my opinion, so here it is.

As much as political participation is important in our democratic process, I wouldn’t trust either bicyclists’ or motorists’ opinions of the facility. These opinions generally are swayed by perceived self-interest and don’t reflect professional training. Let’s consider the actual operational characteristics and crash rate.

I’m no fan of raised lanes (called “cycle tracks” in Europe). This design is common in early facilities installed in Europe, but now there is a heavy backlash against them, because studies have revealed them to have a much higher crash rate than riding in the street. The German ADFC has strongly opposed them for the past several years, since the study results came out. The ADFC recommends street-level bike lanes instead. [This press release] is typical of the ADFC position.

“Originally, cycle tracks were constructed to protect bicyclists from motor traffic. But since then, the number of studies which show that the risk of accidents is markedly higher on cycle tracks than on the streets has been growing. Bicyclists who are traveling on a two-way cycle track in an urban area on the left side of the street have 11.9 times the accident risk they would have on the streets. The cause of this danger is an incorrect political promotion of bicycling over the past few decades. In the past, travelers were segregated. Consequently, bicyclists and motorists could not see one another. At junctions, the bicycle traffic is directed onto the street, unexpected by the motorists. And so we have the typical urban bicycle accident. A bicyclist traveling straight ahead, struck by a turning motorist, is the most common type of bicycle accident involving a motor vehicle, states Stefan Brandtner, press contact for the All-German Bicycle Club (ADFC) Baden-Württemberg section.”

A survey of research on the accident rates of streets, bicycle paths and sidewalks is available on the Internet. And here are some links to specific studies posted on the Internet. Some (particularly Pasanen and Wachtel-Lewiston) are well-controlled for the same bicyclist population on the different types of facilities, while others are not, and so the difference in accident rates probably reflects to some degree that people who choose to ride on sidewalks generally are less skilled.

The Risks of Cycling by Dr. Eero Pasanen, Helsinki, Finland, higher car-bike collision rate for one-way sidepaths compared with streets, even though pedestrians are prohibited from the sidepaths (very similar to the installation shown). Extremely high rate of car-bike collisions with bicyclists crossing intersection on left sidepath.

Adult Bicyclists in the U.S. by Dr. William Moritz. Relative danger index 16 times as high for sidewalk riding as for major street without bicycle facilities. (Data include all crashes, not just car-bike collisions).

A Survey of North American Bicycle Commuters, by Dr. William Moritz. Relative danger index 5.32 times as high on “other” facilities (mostly sidewalks) as on average of all facilities (mostly streets). Data include all crashes, not just car-bike collisions. Lower ratio than in previous study probably related to typically lower speed and overall higher crash rate of average commuters compared with avid adult cyclists.

Alan Wachtel and Diana Lewiston, Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections (ITE Journal, September 1994). Car-bike collision rate 1.8 times as high for sidewalk riding as for streets.

[The following documents] reach similar conclusions:

Sidewalk Bicycle Safety Issues, by Lisa Aultman-Hall and Michael F. Adams Jr. Bicycle accident rate 6 to 10 times as high as sidewalks as on streets in Toronto. (PDF document. See page 4.)

Toronto Bicycle Commuter Safety Rates, by Lisa Aultman-Hall and M. Georgina Kaltenecker. 4 times as high injury accident rate on sidewalks as on streets (PDF document. See table 5, page 19).

On the facility shown, the bicyclist is confined to the space between the slope down to street level, and the pedal-catching curb on the other side. I don’t know exactly how wide the lane is in the installation shown, but it appears to be no wider than 5 feet, with no shoulders, and with shy distance from the curb at one side and the downslope at the other side, the lane’s effective width is much narrower. The AASHTO minimum for a one-way bicycle path is 6 feet, *with* 2 feet of clearance at either side.

So this facility is not wide enough for one bicyclist to overtake another comfortably, even less so for a bicycle to overtake an adult trike or cargo bike of the type Jan Vandertuin is making (last I knew) in Eugene. Even aside from these examples, the carrying capacity of this lane is seriously reduced by its being raised. When bicyclists ride at street level (with or without a bike lane) they may merge outside the bike lane as necessary if the bike lane becomes crowded. In this installation, they can drop down to the street only at the cost of an uncomfortable and somewhat hazardous descent and ascent over the sloped edge. In wet, or worse, icy weather, or if sand or trash has accumulated at the bottom of the sloped edge, a bicyclist could easily be toppled by it.

The raised lane on each side also is bound to be used for two-way travel, because bicyclists do not perceive it as part of the street, and because it is much less convenient to get to the raised lane on the opposite side than it would be to get to a street-level lane on the opposite side. Left-side travel, as the studies show, greatly increases the risk of car-bike collisions. Some bicyclists would choose to ride on a sidewalk anyway — consider a child who wanted to get from one house to another on the left side of the street in the photo — but I don’t like constructing a facility specifically for bicyclists which encourages this behavior (as opposed to a bike route or street-level bike lane, which encourages right-way travel).

Naive bicyclists may assume that they are being “protected” from overtaking traffic by a raised lane, but the lane will cause more crashes than it prevents — certainly so in the case of single-bike and bike-bike crashes and almost certainly so in the case of car-bike crashes, by constraining the bicyclists’ line of travel and leading to a false sense of security. There appears to be an intersection in the background where the raised lane does not go down to street level before and after the intersection to allow merges (is this correct?). The motorists, than, are constrained to make their right turns from the left lane and the bicyclists, except for those at the ends of the skills spectrum — who are well-trained in vehicular techniques or who, on the other hand, make left turns as pedestrians — are likely to turn left from the right lane.

Often the motivation for a particular bicycle facility design is to affect the behavior of *motorists* rather than bicyclists. The classic reason for this has been to make things easier for motorists by getting bicyclists off the road. But here the goal appears to be to make things *harder* for motorists and slow them down by narrowing the lane width they can use. There are many other traffic calming and enforcement measures to slow traffic down and reduce its volume without constructing a problematic bicycle facility.

Another motive for constructing bicycle facilities is often to encourage people to ride bicycles, but again, there are many alternatives in design, and an unsafe facility which is popular is the kind most likely to lead to crashes!

I DO like gently sloped curbs at the RIGHT edge of the area in which bicyclists ride. With such a curb (commonly used on Cape Cod and called the “Cape Cod berm” here in Massachusetts), the trash, sand, water and ice problems still occur but at least most of the time a bicyclist who has strayed off the road can go safely up over the curb.

It appears that there is also a drainage issue. With no storm grate in the bike lane, and a curb at the right side, the lane will only drain if it slopes toward the street. It may be properly sloped now, but concrete slabs tend to tilt after a few years.

Essentially, I don’t see any significant difference between this facility and a sidewalk as far as bicyclists are concerned, other than that pedestrians have a separate sidewalk. I favor traffic calming measures in residential areas, with bicyclists traveling on the street, wide outside lanes and sometimes bike lanes at street level (though bike lanes are often installed where they create turning and crossing conflicts, and other solutions would be preferable); also bicycle paths away from roads to fill in the “missing links” in a bicycle route network, as discussed in the Oregon bicycle plan. This is my honest opinion and I hope it doesn’t upset you too much!

And in turn, Ms. Bishop replied:

On your raised bicycle lane response: no, you didn’t upset me. I’m not sure I agree with some of your comments, but I’m here and can see the lane and use it and you haven’t had that chance. Now that we have had it installed for a while and I’ve had a chance to ride it on several occasions, I’ve begun thinking we probably won’t keep this in our “toolbox” of street treatments. However, there are some things that seem to be good. I haven’t done a video study of the lane usage yet because it was completed so late in the fall last year. I’ll be doing that this spring. If I come up with
anything useful, I’ll let you know.

We don’t get snow or ice here (well, MAYBE a sprinkling of snow that lasts about 1/2 hr. once a year) but we do get a lot of rain. I was concerned about the sloped surface being slippery, but I’ve found it surprisingly easy to ride in the rain. I’ve also tested running up and down the slope pulling various trailers and they track as smoothly I can’t tell the difference from riding on a flat surface, even when one trailer wheel is over the edge while I’m still on the flat bike lane surface. One of the concerns raised by the neighbors (that I haven’t seen materialize) was that the kids would be out there using the sloped surface for playing with their bikes and skateboards.

I think you may be right about less competent cyclists not thinking about merging down into the auto lane to make their left turn. I hadn’t anticipated that when we decided to build the lanes. But I don’t think it will lead to more 2-way riding for 2 reasons: we have sidewalks for those you mentioned who would only be traveling a few houses away and those sidewalks are more accessible; and also because the traffic is relatively light on the street where we have the raised bike lanes (its a neighborhood collector).

For your suggestions on why we might have tried the design, actually you were right about the traffic calming interest…some of our folks were looking for ways to reinforce other traffic calming methods they built into the project. However, *I* was more interested in trying out a bike facility that might appeal more to children in order to get them off the sidewalks (which I agree with you are much more dangerous than the street). Our hope was that we could get them out in the street area where they will be seen by the motorists and slightly separated so they would be willing to try it. Raising them slightly higher seems to have the added benefit that motorists can see them better. I”m not sure we really accomplished all that.

So, thanks for your ideas. Like I said, I don’t think we are going to do that design again, but it was an interesting experiment. We want to make this community even more bicycle-friendly than it is, so are willing to try different approaches. Unfortunately I had very little time to research the design and, while [State of Oregon Bicycle coordinator] Michael Ronkin had it in the state bike/ped plan, he couldn’t suggest people or communities to check with in Europe.

And in turn, I replied:

Thank you very much for your reply. From your description, the sloped surface between the bike lane and the roadway appears to be less severe than it appears in the photo.

On another topic: there is a very interesting citation of a rather old Eugene study in a paper by John Williams, Alex Sorton and Tom Walsh. Dr. Sorton has told me that the paper includes data on the crash risks on streets, sidewalks and off-road paths. I would be most interested in knowing more about the study and if possible, obtaining a copy of it. I would be willing to pay for copying expenses and offer a service in return: conversion of the study into computer-readable format as I have done with a several other studies including, most recently, the classic 1976 Bikecentennial study — which I have posted it on my site.

This inquiry led to Ms. Bishop’s sending me a copy of the 1979 Eugene bicycle plan report, which I scanned and posted on the Internet — but that’s another story.

5 Responses to The Gilham Road raised bike lane, Eugene, Oregon

  1. John wrote: “On the facility shown … it appears to be no wider than 5 feet, with no shoulders, and with shy distance from the curb at one side and the downslope at the other side, the lane’s effective width is much narrower”

    That was my first reaction to the photo. It looks exactly like a narrow sidewalk, but worse because of the slope on one side and the curb on the other.

    Diane wrote “I was more interested in trying out a bike facility that might appeal more to children in order to get them off the sidewalks”

    Ironically, I’d feel more comfortable on a regular sidewalk. Depending on the landscaping, there’s typically grass or dirt or other flush surface next to a sidewalk that can function as a shoulder.

  2. Is that facility enough to trigger the Oregon mandatory sidepath law?

  3. I don’t know. Can anyone answer this?

  4. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, etc. Seems to me to be, in effect, a narrow sidewalk.

    Safety and efficiency issues aside, I also wonder about the quality of the ride. The State of Hawaii put in concrete bike lanes along Kalanianaole Hwy. They were flush with the street but were rough and slow and collected debris, as this one seems to as well. Fast cyclists would sneak out onto the regular road surface when we could.

  5. Steve A :
    Is that facility enough to trigger the Oregon mandatory sidepath law?

    Most certainly, as it’s presented as a “raised bike lane” and is therefore a bike lane, which is also mandatory in OR.

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